4 things we learned about email newsletters from the Digital News Report 2022 | What’s New in Publishing

For the first time, the Digital News Report 2022 features an entire chapter dedicated to email news, focusing on its contribution to engagement and monetization

This year’s highly anticipated Digital News Report 2022 from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism has arrived. The report surveys more than 93,000 online news consumers in 46 markets, covering half of the world’s population.

For the first time, an entire chapter is dedicated to understanding email news consumption, from its contribution to engagement to monetization opportunities. Industry attention around newsletters is often focused on the United States, but the Reuters team wanted to know if the hype carried over elsewhere. “More broadly, we wanted to learn more about the appeal of newsletters in general,” writes chapter author Nic Newman. “In what ways can this low-tech and often outdated medium help build or support sustainable journalism? »

We have closely followed the rise of email newsletters over the past few years. We spoke to newsletter innovators from Axios at 6AM City and Morning Brew, as well as solo newsletter creators like Casey Newton and Anne Helen Petersen. We were therefore delighted to find ourselves in this chapter and have drawn four lessons for publishers.

1: Email has room to grow

We often hear about “cutting edge newsletters,” but one thing the Digital News Report 2022 makes clear is that we still have a long way to go before the majority of people read a newsletter. Even in Austria, the country with the most e-mail news readers, less than a quarter of respondents regularly access e-mail news. The average across all markets is 17%, and the UK is the lowest at just 9%.

Given that email is one of the oldest communication formats on the Internet, the fact that its use for information is so low is surprising, especially since almost everyone has an email address. We could potentially indicate that publishers are underestimating the power of email in this regard. It’s only been in the past five years that the success of email news publishers like Axios has spurred investment and expansion by other organizations.

However, publishers’ investment in newsletters has yet to help. “Despite the increase in supply newsletters in recent years, the proportion accessing them has actually declined in many countries,” the report notes.

He attributes this to increased competition from social media, online aggregators and news alerts from mobile phone apps. In the United States, weekly consumption has fallen from 27% to 22% since 2014, although the last four years have been quite static. Meanwhile, the use of mobile alerts has tripled.

It should be noted that among those who do subscribe to email newsletters, the convenience of the format is cited as the main reason by 65% ​​of respondents. “I love getting the headlines in email,” said one respondent, who appreciates the control and choice of email. “I can read the article, or skip it, and use keywords for more research on the topic.”

Convenience is also about the time-saving aspect of email, the report says. “What you need to know” formats have become particularly popular during the pandemic and are now a staple at places like CNN and the BBC. Axios has mastered the “smart brevity” format, delivering its emails via concise 300-word articles.

As news overload and avoidance increases, publishers have an opportunity to position email newsletters as a solution to the multitude of content available online. The value proposition will vary by brand, but it is clear from the report that there is room for careful curation, brevity and even informality.

2: The Age Gap Between Emails Matters

Not surprisingly, the report found that email news is valued “primarily by older, wealthier, more educated consumers of news, most of whom are already deeply invested in news.” One in seven people over the age of 55 in the United States say that email is their main way of accessing news.

But what is shocking is how much it drops among young people. Only 5% of 25-34 year olds and 3% of 18-24 year olds rely on email access as their primary source. For 41% of Gen Zers, social media is the primary way to find information. Overall, more than 80% of all people in the United States who use email as their primary source of news are over the age of 35.

Of course, it’s only people who say that primary the way they access news is through email. For many, email news is almost certainly just one access point among many, competing with social media, publisher apps and websites, and television for attention. Nevertheless, it is a useful measure of the relative importance given to the sources.

What does this mean for publishers with newsletters? As with any platform, it’s good to know which audiences are most likely to access information through this format. Successful digital publishers are those who publish across multiple mediums in order to meet audiences where they prefer to read.

It should also be noted that email – at present – is a format that is gaining in importance as people enter the workplace and use it more frequently. Just because 18-year-olds aren’t signing up for email newsletters doesn’t mean they still won’t in a decade. But while young people are a key target market, know that they aren’t glued to their inbox the same way more chronologically accomplished people are.

3: Solo Operators are still small…for now

In recent years, a number of well-known journalists and columnists have left established organizations to start their own newsletter-based businesses, especially as publishing tools have made it easier to earn a living. We spoke to a selection of them in 2020 about the realities of going it alone with reader income as a journalist.

With all this hype, it would be easy to conclude that the solo operator market is saturated. But the Digital News Report suggests otherwise. In ten selected countries, more than half (53%) of those who receive news emails receive them from mainstream media organisations. Alternative sources of information are favored by 27% of them, followed by specialized media (23%). Only 16% of people who receive news emails receive them from journalists working alone.

The geographical differences here are also striking. In the US – where both publishing tools and advertising around journalists are concentrated – emails from individuals are almost five times more popular (18%) than in the UK (4%), and more than twice as popular as in Germany (8%). This shows how far journalist-run media companies have grown in the US market. This offers hope for future growth for writers in countries other than the United States.

The report also found significant overlap between those who receive emails from mainstream media organizations and individual journalists. “This suggests that alternative and journalist-led emails, which often target smaller, more specialized audiences, are often used as a complement to general information emails – rather than as a replacement,” writes Newman.

4: Payments are just getting started

It’s only relatively recently that paid newsletters have become part of the mainstream news outlet’s product line. Email has primarily been used as a way to engage users and drive traffic to apps and websites where traffic can be more easily monetized. Even among outlets that have paid for email newsletters, these are often part of a larger membership or subscription proposition, rather than being a standalone product.

Trying to establish the public’s willingness to pay for email newsletters is therefore quite a complex task. The Digital News Report, however, found that 7% of those who pay for online news in the United States subscribe to an email news product from an individual reporter. In Germany and Australia, this figure is only 1%.

“The ‘sub-stack revolution’ for information is still primarily an American phenomenon and not guaranteed to spread elsewhere, especially given the difference in market size and context,” Newman warns. .

For solo journalists and news outlets, the extent to which global audiences will pay for email as a standalone product remains unanswered. This in itself is something to keep in mind the next time someone writes that they have reached the top of the newsletter.

Republished courtesy of Media Voices, a weekly look at all the news and opinion from across the media world.

Harry L. Blanchard